Americans Still Turn Blind Eye to the Savagery We Unleashed in Iraq

Bush & BushIt was bad enough when, before the fourth game of the World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, George Bush drove his father and himself out to the pitching mound in a golf cart to toss out the traditional first ball. (One could be forgiven for wondering if it was part of his book tour.) But it was galling when he threw a near-perfect pitch.

Worst of all, though, as opposed to when he performed the same function on baseball’s 2008 opening day at Nationals Park in Washington and was jeered, this time only cheers could be heard on T.V. by the naked ear. No doubt many in the crowd weren’t happy to see him and held their applause. Still, even though it was Bush’s home state, couldn’t anybody see his or her way clear to expressing contempt for his poor excuse for a presidency?

Along with playing an instrumental role in wrecking the economy and threatening our civil liberties, Bush will mostly be remembered for the disproportionate and — less broadly targeted than mis-targeted — response to 9/11 that he took out on Iraq, a nation that had nothing to do with the attack on American soil. Emphasizing what a raw open wound Iraq remains, as I wrote yesterday:

Brutality in Iraq still flares up at critical times on a scale commensurate with that seen during the height of the sectarian strife (aka, civil war). On Sunday, in what has already come to be known as the Baghdad Church Massacre, insurgents representing the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq attacked and seized a church in Baghdad leaving 58 dead and 75 wounded. Then on Tuesday, November 2, insurgents set off more than a dozen car and roadside bombs across Baghdad leaving at least 63 dead and nearly 300 wounded.

Though the odds of a cause-effect relationship are minimal, those attacks came on the heels of the WikiLeaks document dump, which refreshed our memories about the part that the United States played in the savagery that gripped Iraq after our invasion and during our occupation. At IPS News, Gareth Porter writes about a key revelation:

. . . a U.S. military order directing U.S. forces not to investigate cases of torture of detainees by Iraqis has been treated in news reports as yet another case of lack of concern by the U.S. military about detainee abuse.

It was much more, however. Porter explains.

But the deeper significance of the order, which has been missed by the news media, is that it was part of a larger U.S. strategy of exploiting Shi’a sectarian hatred against Sunnis to help suppress the Sunni insurgency when Sunnis had rejected the U.S. war. . . . The strategy involved the deliberate deployment of Shi’a and Kurdish police commandoes in areas of Sunni insurgency in the full knowledge that they were torturing Sunni detainees. . . . That strategy inflamed Sunni fears of Shi’a rule and was a major contributing factor to the rise of al Qaeda’s influence in the Sunni areas. The escalating Sunni-Shi’a violence it produced led to the massive sectarian warfare of 2006 in Baghdad in which tens of thousands of civilians — mainly Sunnis — were killed.

Talk about pouring gasoline on a fire. I suspect that among those who thought about it, much of the American public rationalized the violence in Iraq thusly: even if the war was fought for the wrong reasons, we gave Iraqis their freedom from a tyranny. If the best they could do with it was to kill each other with impunity, not only is that not our problem, but they don’t deserve our respect or concern. Most of us feel no responsibility whatsoever for the Pandora’s box we opened. However heartless that attitude, it ventures into the realm of cruelty when we learn that the U.S. pursued policies that constituted a de facto sanction of torture and killing.

Since, personally, I view Americans as victims of our government (though not to the same extent as if our rulers were Saddam Hussein or Stalin) and our corporate rich, who are just trying to stay upright in these vertiginous times, I try to be understanding about their inattentiveness to how our policies affect the lives of those elsewhere. But these recent developments make it considerably more difficult to overlook their lack of compassion.

In the course of a day in the United States, one meets individuals who, however stressed, are caring, considerate, as well as eager and willing to help each other on a family, church, and community level. But when it comes to people elsewhere, except for contributing aid for tsunami-like disasters (the Pakistani floods excluded), they exclude them from their consciousnesses.

For instance, while most Americans know that the vast majority of Muslims would never join in an al Qaeda-like attack on the United States, I suspect they’re convinced that most Muslims, if not openly, secretly cheered 9/11. I submit, however, that tuning out news from Iraq and about WikiLeaks, and voting for candidates who perpetuate war in the Middle East virtually cancel out the good — however heartfelt — that Americans do on a local level.

Returning to Bush, in retrospect, his World Series appearance was a major opportunity lost. When it was announced, progressives should have fired up the social media, bought tickets, and organized a chant — such as “War criminal!” — to greet him. Leave us be on the lookout for future such occasions.